CHARACTERS IN WENDALL’S LULLABY: DR. MENKE

•January 27, 2018 • Leave a Comment

A BACKSTORY EXCERPT FROM MY NOVEL WENDALL’S LULLABY
bottle-nosed dolphinFollowing his return to the US in 1971, Menke opted to stay in the Army, but instead of requesting the opportunity to attend medical school, he decided to attend veterinary school at the University of California–Davis. His Navy friend Collins worked a deal to have him assigned as an intern/assistant to the Army veterinarians who supervised the care of the dolphins, belugas, and sea lions in the Navy’s Marine Mammal Program (NMMP). Collins also made sure that Menke had the transportation to make the long trip at least once a week. Upon graduation, he joined the NMMP vet team full-time.

MARINE MAMMAL VETWithin five years, he was the head veterinarian. Over the course of more than 20 years, he managed captive breeding programs, assisted with, and lead, a variety of research projects, got to know several hundred dolphins and sea lions, met a number of SEALs and managed the transition to exclusive, marine mammal specific special operations teams (MSOTs).

To learn more about how Dr. Aldo “Doc” Menke fits into the epic conspiracy, you can purchase and read Wendall’s Lullaby as and ebook or paperback on Amazon.com. 

EFFICIENCY: Dirty Dozen Circuit

•January 24, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Concept2 RowerThere aren’t many people today who aren’t pressed for time–and lack of time is often the most common excuse for  not exercising. As committed as I am to fitness, I also have some periods of time when I’m less motivated, feel too busy or truly am short on time.

That’s when a high-intensity circuit can do the trick–fitting a well-rounded workout into 20-45 minutes.

KETTLEBELL STEP UPSMy go-to circuit for the last two weeks is what I’ve been calling my Dirty Dozen Circuit–mainly because it has 12 stations. I’m liking the framework of the workout and anticipate substituting some tougher exercises (Dirtier Dozen?) once I get my fitness level back to where I am ready to step it up.

For now, I’m doing three times through this circuit:

  1. Concept2 Rower: 1-minute
  2. Weighted Sissy Squats
  3. Web Hamstring Curls
  4. Web Pikes
  5. Concept2 Rower: 1-minute
  6. Sumo Kettlebell Dead Lifts
  7. Low Back Extensions
  8. Web Mountain Climbers
  9. Concept2 Rower: 1-minute
  10. Kettlebell Step-ups
  11. Medicine Ball Russian Twists
  12. Flutter Kicks

This particular circuit is obviously heavy on legs and core. If you want to change it up, it’s easy to add in some push-ups, pull-ups or other upper-body movements. Eventually, I’m looking at increasing the rowing interval to 2 minutes and adding in walking lunges and burpees.

I know that after completing this workout I feel satisfied that I pushed myself. I also feel prepared to take on the day–whether it’s writing the sequel to my first novel, Wendall’s Lullaby, or working on my Endeavor Racing trail running and adventure events.

 

 

 

ADVENTURE: defined

•January 23, 2018 • 1 Comment

Merriam-Webster defines adventure as:

  1. an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks
  2. the encountering of risk

Heading off into the woods solo–as I often do–comes with its own risks (and rewards). So most people will ask, “Why add to the risk? Why add to the adventure?” I won’t say it’s a question that doesn’t cross my mind when I’m in the woods alone, but I can say that’s not one I always try and answer.

This morning’s mountain bike ride at Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park  started with a similar plan to last week’s–hitting the trails before the sunrise and sticking to the paved trail and then the north power line road until I had better visibility.

IMG_5522Something about the morning–maybe the mysterious, misty fog–made me want to do more exploring–so I set off down one of the grassy dirt roads on the east side of the power lines. I had some thoughts on a new plan in my mind: try to find another route out to the paved Suncoast Trail; try to find a dirt road south to the paved trail in Starkey Park. 

Finding a connection to the Suncoast Trail wasn’t too difficult–in fact, it was much easier than on my last exploration. I managed to not only find an opening in the barbed wire fence (no fence -climbing this time), but after riding a short distance south on the pavement I found a nice gate to hop to get back into the dirt road world of the woods. I was happy that I had found those connections and the potential for future long distance rides on mixed surfaces.

IMG_5532

The exploration from that point on was a little more adventurous. This is a network of “trails” that is mapped for multiuse–bikes, foot travel and horses–but that is rarely used. I can’t say I’ve seen another person out there (a nice thing about weekday adventuring) using any of hose modes of transportation. Of course, I didn’t have the trail map with me. I have taken it with me on previous trips but after getting a basic imprint in my brain and realizing that it wasn’t entirely accurate I decided to stop carrying it. IMG_5523Now I rely a little more on my natural sense of direction, intuition, an occasional glance at my compass and my years of experience in the wild lands of Florida.

Once you get your feet wet the first time everything changes as far as the level of adventure you are willing to accept. Once, I made my first creek crossing and felt a little thrill, I didn’t hesitate to start down a road that obviously was headed into a wetland or that seemed to be overgrown and even less-used than the others.

IMG_5529Eventually, the spirit of adventure had me following a “road” that slowly morphed into more of a fire-break cut–a path hacked through saw palmettos to help keep forest fires contained. The width of the cut narrowed and the gnarliness of the ground increased–with more exposed roots, more rough ruts and more soft spots. I kept at it–such a long cut surely connected to another road somewhere. And, the fire-break was heading generally in the correct direction–south.

IMG_5535As I continued to churn through the roots and runts I noticed what looked like a pile of logs and debris ahead–it was not a good sign. It was the end of the fire-break. It was the end of the line–there were no connecting roads. The work crew obviously had backtracked their way all the way out. Disappointed, I stopped, looked at my compass, had a Hammer Gel and a drink.

One of the things I’ve learned to recognize after all of my years wondering in Florida woods either competing in or planning adventure races is old roads–particularly old berm roads. Much of the woodlands in Florida are lowlands, seasonal or permanent wetlands or outright cypress swamp. In order to traverse these low, wet areas (sometimes for logging, sometimes just for transportation) raised road beds are built. The simple ones have bases of logs placed like railroad ties on which mounds of dirt are piled. The dirt typically comes from the sides–creating a little ditch on each side of the raised road.

Well, during my evaluation and refueling break I noticed what looked like an old berm road. It wasn’t quite heading in the correct direction and that’s when my sense of nostalgia took over–to augment the adventure. It’s been some time since I participated in an adventure race and had the chance to explore like this–I think I wanted to recapture a little of that thrill. I decided to follow it. It’s got to lead somewhere, I thought. At the very least it might lead to higher ground and another road.

It was an old berm road–with full-sized trees, debris and shrubs making it impossible to ride. But, it was a dry course to follow through the surrounding cypress swamp and tangle of small creeks and I loved it. After crossing the second of two obvious cuts (where there were probably bridges at one time) the berm progressed to higher ground and petered out–no other road was in sight. Damn.

IMG_5537At least the berm ended in an area that had been burned recently–which would make for relatively easy hike-a-bike travel through what could have been thick saw palmettos. My compass told me which way was south and I headed in that direction carrying my bike on my shoulder. About 50 yards into my trek I noticed what looked like a dry creek bed off to the right and made my way over to it–following it sort-of-south for a good distance. I even managed to ride brief sections. Every few minutes I would pause–surveying the area for signs of roads and at the same time just taking in the majesty of the woods and the tonic of the isolation.

During one pause, I spotted suspiciously aligned trees in the distance–their orientation to each other seemed to indicate that they were along the side of a linear feature. Road.

Another 50 yards of bike-whacking and I emerged on a large linear swath cut through the woods. It held a good bit of water and had obviously had some serious flow at some point in time (during Hurricane Irma perhaps?) as there were obvious washes and sandbars. But, it wasn’t completely submerged and went on for a quite a distance–I felt strongly that it was the northern boundary of Starkey Wilderness Park. That would be a good thing as it supposedly intersected a few of the old forest roads I hoped would get me back to the paved trail.

IMG_5551It did intersect roads that eventually lead me south and to the park’s paved bike trail–a good thing as my adventure was seriously starting to impede my chances of making it to the 10:30am meeting I had scheduled. Luckily, the adrenaline from my adventure allowed me to push through the straight forward navigation back to the van–and I ended the workout with burning quads, a couple of scrapes, wet shoes and a huge smile.

 

 

 

 

 

Why I went (and go) to the woods

•January 16, 2018 • Leave a Comment

THOREAU WITH WENT TO THE WOODS QUOTEYesterday I completed my longest mountain bike ride since my race in North Carolina at the end of July–just over 29 miles. I was happy with that–though the mileage or the dull, but enjoyable ache in my quads were not the largest factor contributing to my joy. That award goes to my thoughts.

I started my ride intent on taking my normal pre-sunrise start route at Starkey Wilderness Park–paved trail to power line road north to State Road 52 and then back south to the single track mountain bike trails–starting with Deliverance. I was excited as I hit the power line road–someone had done some work to one of the softer and wonkier sections. The new road bed of crushed/packed shell made for some quick riding on what had been a less-enjoyable road. But my excitement soon faded as the nice road bed turned into a super-soft, rutted mess–the result of the heavy equipment used to move and grade the shell. I toughed it out and in the process decided to explore the extensive network of old forest roads to the east instead of sticking with the original plan. Whim.

IMG_5434It was a cold (by Florida standards) morning, so I had dressed in layers. About six miles in I had started to warm up enough to stop and remove a layer. I consciously tried to pick a scenic spot as I had also noticed it was almost sunrise and (romantic that I am) I just had to take it in. It was during this brief break that I really started thinking about why I loved being out in the woods for my workouts and why I kept going back to the woods (or the water) time after time. The reasons weren’t quite Thoreauvian (though I do often feel a kinship for his primal thoughts) but they are important to me.

I thought back to my youth and the time I spent exploring the beaches and wetlands of Leonardo and Atlantic Highlands, NJ, with my old friend Jack Hueston–just enjoying the isolation, the water and observing nature. As a young shell collector I was particularly interested in watching live snails slowly do their thing in the shallow water mud flats. Jack was more interested in the fish. Those weren’t explorations that were physically demanding (typically) but rather “excursions” of observation.

I also recalled our family camping trips to Roger’s Rock Campground on Lake George in New York. It was a different kind of nature–mountains and rocks and cliffs around a huge fresh water lake. Still, I recall enjoying snorkeling around the “Flat Rocks” observing the perch, bass and small killifish more than I did patiently trying to catch them with my pole. It was also here that I started hiking–initially just to get to places like the Flat Rocks or Elephant Rock. Eventually, we made tougher hikes to Roger’s Rock or Tongue Mountain. As I got older, I would go off on my own or with friends. One summer Pat Kirk and I set off and made our own route up Roger’s Rock–from the lakeshore to the top–with some unprotected rock climbing and tree climbing that added to the adventure. I think it was here (and on later backpacking trips) that I really started to embrace the physical challenges that could complement being immersed in the natural environment.

I continued thinking as I remounted my bike and explored a portion of the land that I hadn’t been through previously. And though my main goal had originally been a workout, I took a couple of breaks every now and then to notice (and in a few cases photograph) some of the beauty along the way–the sunrise and rays reflecting on a pond, a flock of white ibis leaving their overnight roost, the color and texture of the shrubs near a cypress swamp and the running water of a small stream.

IMG_5454Eventually, I made my way to the single track mountain bike trails–and my mind focused a little more on the physical workout and my riding technique. Yet even while pushing my body a little harder I couldn’t help but smile–happy to have access to such an amazing natural environment and the life experiences that allow me to connect with it on so many levels.

The JUNK MAIL SAGA Continues…

•November 28, 2017 • Leave a Comment

It’s been almost seven months since my father moved from his house to a one-bedroom apartment closer to me. At that time, we had his mailing address changed to our house and individually contacted only a select few “institutions” and businesses to give them his real new address. Our hope was that in doing so that all the junk mail, junk mail charities and various scam sweepstakes wouldn’t find him at his new address AND that we could slowly start to eliminate the deluge from our own mailbox.

Initially, we were getting nearly as much mail as he had been getting before the move. Our mailman was often needing to master cramming it all into our normal-sized, street-side mailbox (though he did complain more than once).

My wife (LOVE HER) started making phone calls to each organization that he was receiving mail from at our address. You can tell how shady some of these groups are by how difficult it is to find a phone number on their materials. Many don’t have a phone number on their letterhead or their other materials. On many of their websites you have to really “drill down” to find one. On some of their websites there was no phone number. On some there was only an email. On others there was only an email reply form. The worst of the worst I could only try to contact through their Facebook page!

At the end of nearly seven months we have a spreadsheet of over 700 organizations we have called and asked to remove my father from their databases, mailing lists, calling lists and/or to add him (if they have such a thing–some do) to their “do not mail” and “do not call” lists. For some groups (because we are still receiving mail months after first contact) we are making second or third calls and sending follow-up emails. The “organizations” range from one extreme end of the political spectrum to the other and everything in between, from reputable charities to those who’s top Google search says “scam” and from products that promise to grow your hair to products that promise to grow other things (!).

NEW MAIL?!? On top of the frustration of the old mail, we continue to receive junk mail for my father from new organizations–even though I’ve put the maximum number of iterations of his name and address on the Direct Marketing Association’s “do not mail” list.

 

envelope

DECEPTIVE RETURN ENVELOPE–SEEMS LEGIT, RIGHT?

 

One of the reasons I write this is that I know many of my friends have parents who are getting older and I urge you to be nosey–do whatever you can to check out their mail, their checking accounts and credit card accounts to make sure they are not being taken advantage of by the persistent harassment that comes from this broad range of organizations making abusive use of the U.S. Mail. Get a handle on it early–save yourself some frustration. Save your parents or grandparents some money.

 

junk mail sweepstakes crap

TYPICAL JUNK MAIL SWEEPSTAKES PLOY–BEWARE!!!

 

Putting it all into the sequel

•November 2, 2017 • Leave a Comment

DCIM108GOPROAfter returning from my paddling event in Chattanooga, I noticed that it had been some time since my last blog post. Bad Kip.

Honestly, I’ve been putting all of my writing efforts of late into my follow-up of Wendall’s Lullaby. I’ve got just over 20,000 words down and the story is starting to take shape nicely. While I have a very general outline down on paper, notes on my legal pads and post-its with ideas, themes and characters across the top of my desk, I am also somewhat of an organic writer. As I flesh out the actual story the connections and action grow and later become even clearer. Sometimes (as happened in my first novel) even the crux of the story comes to me that way.

manuscript and penYesterday I spent time editing the hard copy I had taken to Chattanooga and hoped to work on during my trip. It didn’t happen during the trip, but it was a great way to refocus and inspire me to move forward. And today I had a very productive day of writing.

The working title for the sequel is Delphys Rising. I’ll leave it at that for now.

The Rise of “Niche Media,” the end of compromise and the division of America

•October 10, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Constitution_of_the_United_States,_page_1It’s a dangerous and pervasive myth to believe that America was founded by men with unwavering principles–so passionate in their beliefs that they refused to compromise.

America was founded on compromise. Jefferson’s removal of all references to slavery in the Declaration of Independence allowed the colonies to unite in their separation from England. The U.S. Constitution as we know it was the product of vigorous debate and was only ready to be submitted to the states for ratification following The Great Compromise and the Three-Fifths Compromise.

Politicians used to be better compromisers. Americans used to be better compromisers. I think that essentially democratic characteristic has been lost. I think the ever-increasing access to compartmentalized/niche information sources is partly to blame.

There is simply less of a need for us to have to hear the opinions of others– it’s easier for us to tune into radio and TV or log onto websites that only support our own way of thinking. We can lazily stay in our ideological comfort zones–slowly morphing into rigid zealots and fanatics.

In the pre-cable TV, pre-Internet past, our choices were more limited. We were forced to see and hear more opposing points of view. It might have made us uncomfortable, but I think that discomfort was a great thing–sometimes simply the start of a vigorous conversation or at other times the prelude to a productive compromise.

How do we reinvigorate America with the spirit of compromise? First, we have to realize that the effort will not be comfortable. We will have to genuinely listen to opinions that will grate against our own firmly held beliefs. Second, we have to realize that it will take a sustained effort–it’s not something we can try for a week, post our efforts on Facebook, Tweet about and then move on.

With that in mind, I challenge everyone, everyday, to access one source of “information” that you perceive as presenting an opposing viewpoint or bias on the world. Some simple examples: if you watch CNN regularly, watch FOX News (really watch and listen) for 15 or 30 minutes; if you listen to Hannity or Rush, try NPR for an hour. Do it everyday and tell people what you are doing and why.

Why? Because America–as embodied in our Constitution, as visualized by our Founders, as manifested in its first 200 years–will only survive if we recapture the ability to listen and compromise. The other option is gridlock, stagnation and decay.

 

 
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